updated 1/10/2007 9:29:46 PM ET 2007-01-11T02:29:46

Bomb blasts in three Philippine cities that killed eight people and wounded dozens were aimed at embarrassing the government as it hosts a summit of Asian nations, the country’s chief of police said Thursday.

The bombs exploded Wednesday evening in the southern region of Mindanao, hundreds of miles from the central city of Cebu, which is hosting the Jan. 13-15 meeting of leaders from 16 Asian nations.

Police chief Oscar Calderon, who is overseeing the tight security measures in Cebu, said the attacks were not isolated.

“They were trying to send a message,” he told reporters. “They wanted to embarrass the government because of the meetings in Cebu.”

Philippine officials have insisted there is no threat to the summit. Presidents and prime ministers from China, Japan, India, Australia, South Korea and New Zealand will join leaders from the 10-member Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) at Cebu.

No one has claimed responsibility for the attacks, but police say suspects include the Abu Sayyaf, a militant group with links to al-Qaida, and rogue elements from the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, which is holding peace talks with the government.

Both groups operate in Mindanao.

In Cebu, Southeast Asian foreign ministers were to meet on Thursday with the focus on ASEAN member Myanmar. The United States has introduced a U.N. resolution calling on Myanmar’s military junta to restore democracy and release all political prisoners, including Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi.

Murmurs about Myanmar
ASEAN has long had a policy of non-interference in the domestic affairs of member nations, but murmurs about the situation in Myanmar have surfaced in recent years.

At a dinner on Wednesday for foreign ministers, Philippine Foreign Secretary Alberto Romulo called on Myanmar to advance on its roadmap to democracy, and demanded the release of Suu Kyi, who has been in some form of custody for 10 of the last 17 years.

Trade will take center stage later in the week at the ASEAN summit and later at the expanded East Asia summit with the six dialogue partners.

The grouping is also due to sign a counterterrorism initiative providing for more coordination among members.

Romulo said the summit venue was secure.

“Everything is safe and secure in Cebu,” he told reporters. “Therefore, the show must go on. What happened outside Cebu was retaliation to military operations.”

The most powerful bomb exploded outside a lottery booth in a public market at General Santos City on the southern tip of the Philippines. At least six people were killed and 26 wounded.

Within hours, bombs also exploded in Cotabato City and Kidapawan City, also in Mindanao. Two people were killed there and several wounded, the military said.

Western governments have warned of bomb attacks by Islamic militants during the summit, and said the violence-prone Mindanao region was a likely target.

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